AFC leader Khemraj Ramjattan has put the Donald Ramotar administration on notice that the opposition will put a halt to “parallel treasuries” built with billions being placed in accounts belonging to certain statutory agencies instead of the Consolidated Fund.
“We must not have parallel treasuries in Guyana. Not from the year 2014. It must stop and when the opposition is going to make the point that it should be halted please— members of the government side listen up—don’t go and say that we are chopping the budget when we know
that you are chopping it ten times more,” Ramjattan yesterday told the National Assembly as he opened the last day of budget debates before a week of considerations of the estimates begins.
Ramjattan said that this year’s budget could have been “far superior” if the views of the opposition, which are known by the government, had been incorporated. He said that since last year, during tripartite talks, the opposition had indicated to the government a number of things that were being sought.
He said while it is the responsibility of the government to prepare the budget, once there is a majority on the opposition side, it is “incumbent on a government that would like to see things happen that there be what is called inclusiveness on the part of the government on opposition views.”
He said that in a minority government, there must be “multi-party governance by necessity,” while adding that the opposition groups want their points to be given consideration and to be deliberated upon.
Ramjattan also said that it must be appreciated that even if the opposition is going to “use its scissors,” one must understand and appreciate that hatchets and shears were already being used prior to the opposition gaining a majority in the National Assembly. He explained that cuts were made because the proceeds from all revenue streams were not going into the Consolidated Fund so that the opposition can have a fair grasp of how much revenues exist so that “we can disburse and expend.” He argued that the total revenue was never accurately represented in the budget.
According to Ramjattan, monies are being siphoned off into second accounts that belong to certain statutory agencies. He cited the Guyana Forestry Commission, saying that as outlined in the budget, its balance as of December 31 last totalled some $1,034,000, 000. “That was never put in the Consolidated Fund,” he stressed before going on to the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission, which had a balance at the end of 2013 of $12,625,000,000. He also mentioned Guyana Lands and Survey Commission, the Guyana Civil Aviation Authority, the Central Housing and Planning Authority, the Lotto Funds and the National Industrial & Commercial Investments Ltd (NICIL). “These bodies have government’s monies—what is called public monies under the constitution and the financial management and accountability act. That alone totals some $27.7 billion. That is not there,” he noted.
He added that there are a number of agencies that have bank balances that have not been put into the Consolidated Fund although the Auditor General makes it clear that those sums ought to be put there.
He said that unless all the monies are put into the Consolidated Fund, “we will not have a true representation of the state of our finances.” He added that Cabinet knows of the billions of public funds that are being siphoned and made the point that this is a huge flaw in this year’s budget as there is no true depiction of the state of these funds.
This year’s budget, he added, will have a deficit in the vicinity of some $32 billion. He said that there could have been a balanced budget but “no says the Finance Minister. No says the Cabinet….”
Ramjattan further said that recognised academics, such as former Auditor General Dr Anand Goolsarran, remarked that we have a “parallel treasury” in the form of these sums of money. The failure to channel these funds into the Consolidated Fund, as is required by the constitution, is wrong, he argued, while noting that the funds are being used for projects without parliamentary approval, such as the construction of the Marriott Hotel. “Every major capital project in this country which is going to utilise public monies must have the National Assembly’s approval,” he stressed, while noting that a lot of money had gone to project like the Marriott without the approval of the National Assembly.
“When you are going to do bypass mechanisms like these, we are going to anger your legally-elected representatives of the National Assembly. That is then going to cause a vexation of the spirit…,” he said to loud applause, before adding that it is “like a con game on the housewife with that kind of deceptive husband.”
Ramjattan said that there are other revenue streams that are being denied the budgetary process.
He cited billions in exemptions and tax concessions that are granted to certain investors and he noted that many of these are not rational. “It must come to an end because our Constitution says that all monies must go into the Consolidated Fund,” he declared, while adding that the Constitution is supreme but “when it comes to the finances it could be scattered about for them to spend as they want.”
He said that the billions that are not being put into the Consolidated Fund is what is responsible for the denial of a rightful due to citizens, including senior citizens who still cannot get a desired $15,000 old age pension.
High migration level
According to Ramjattan, the government talked a lot about how the nation has developed when compared with the past. However, he said that the point must be made that a lot of Guyanese are migrating and the level is so high that “government don’t want to bring out the census report as to what really our population is.”
Ramjattan told the House that about 1,000 persons per month are leaving Guyana, taking with them the skilled labour force. He said that the census will also reveal the poverty level of Guyanese.
His comments were met with shouts and heckles from the government side. “You see how he is jumping like a kangaroo already,” Ramjattan shouted above the heckling of the government MPs. This caused the Speaker Raphael Trotman to caution Ramjattan to “stay to his speech.”
Ramjattan continued speaking about migration and pointed out that “we are not getting the true picture” and he added that given the fact that our migration rate is the highest in the Caribbean.
He said it would seem as if the country is just manufacturing skills for other countries. We are outsourcing our greatest asset, that is our “human resources,” he said, and he reasoned that this is why many industries, including sugar, are in the state that they are in at present.
In relation to the sugar industry, Ramjattan said that “it is important that we ensure that that sector succeeds but it must not succeed with bail out every year.” He called for the board to be replaced. “You can’t go now and give good money to the same managers and board members,” he stressed, adding that while the mechanisation of the industry is a good move it will cause displacement of many workers. He said that among the focuses should be getting the skills back into the industry.
“I would forewarn that side of the house that our sugar industry, which is so important to all of us, must be managed better,” he said, adding that there would be lots of profit but with good management.
Ramjattan also stressed the need for the operationalising of the Public Procurement Commission to deal with the high incidence of corruption that exists.